- Player: Thabo Khumalo
- Brand: ToVch
- Established: 2010
- Visit: tovch.co.za
When you don’t have much more than sweat equity to invest, start-up marketing can be a huge challenge, particularly when you are in a cutthroat industry like local fashion. What do you do when you’re competing against trendy overseas brands and cheap Chinese imports, and you don’t have the budget for a big, exciting marketing campaign?
Building on his natural enthusiasm for social media, Thabo Khumalo has built a strong online network as the foundation of a marketing strategy for his fashion brand ToVch, which he describes as a gender-fluid, valiant approach to wearable day-to-day items, as well as more exclusive red carpet, couture, evening and cocktail dresses.
Khumalo launched ToVch in 2010, having taught himself cutting and sewing skills from the age of eight, while helping his seamstress mother with her business.
“On social media, people share your brand with others simply because they want to,” says Khumalo. “It’s a powerful platform, and it does not cost anything.”
“A great way to get your name out there without having to spend any money is by publishing great content on a regular basis. Remember to keep it industry specific,” explains Khumalo.
ToVch does not have masses of followers; instead, Khumalo has smaller audiences, and he communicates through targeted messaging with niche communities that make up the fashion industry — from fellow designers to customers and industry commentators.
“The brand has a dedicated audience, and the social media presence also allows me to continuously scan the fashion environment to keep up with external forces such as new technology, and political, legal, economic and social changes,” he adds.
For start-ups that market and sell highly visual products with strong design elements, like fashion, furniture and décor, images are everything. Social networks like Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr and Vine, can be extremely valuable. That’s where a picture really is worth a thousand words. They are also among the most powerful mediums, because people, not brands, drive the conversation.
Create communities and drive conversation that will build brand awareness, by utilising social media platforms.
- Player: Simphiwe Majozi and Sihle Ndlela
- Brand: Majozi Bros Construction
- Established: 2012
- Visit: majozibros.co.za
Simphiwe Majozi and Sihle Ndlela have one aim: To be the biggest property group in Africa. They’re dead serious about this big, hairy, audacious goal, but they’re willing to do it slowly and sustainably.
“We understand the importance of the right foundation,” they say. “We have eight failed businesses between us, so we’ve learnt a lot of lessons, particularly around the dangers of growing too quickly.”
“It was tough to convince potential clients – especially established, older generation clients – that we can deliver. We realised that we could allow the perception of our youth to hinder our growth, or we could find a way to use it as an advantage.”
And so the pair made it rain. They created a brand around their youth. “We highlighted the fact that we are two young guys in construction. In every interaction we had, particularly with media, we painted a positive picture of our youth and aspirations,” says Sihle.
“We just needed to get a foot in the door so that our record could start speaking for itself, and the hype we created did that for us.”
They launched just as the housing and construction market started taking strain. “We realised we could wait around and hope things would get better, or we could go out there and create our own opportunities.” They targeted an up-and-coming semi-township area where the property prices were cheaper than in the suburbs, but there was real buyers’ interest.
“Buy a plot, develop it, sell it. That was our plan. We wouldn’t just be builders. We’d be the developers. We’d give ourselves work,” says Sihle. It was a small scale experiment that paid off, and they were able to use the profits to buy their next property.
“We believe information and industry experience is power,” says Sihle. “We make a point of learning as much as we can from other industry partners, clients, suppliers – anyone who is willing to share advice or who we can observe. You can never know too much.”
Majozi Bros Construction now joins WBHO’s enterprise development programme, which ensures the entrepreneurs will be fine-tuning their business and industry skills. “We’re excited to experience the systems that an industry giant uses, and apply them in our business,” says Majozi. “We want to compete with the best, and that means continuous learning.”
Successful start-ups create their own opportunities. Don’t wait for something great to happen to you. Go out and make it happen.
3Selling An Experience
- Player: Karabo Sepharatla
- Brand: Camping Khapela
- Established: 2014
- Visit: campingkhapela.com
I needed to first figure out what I was passionate about. I’d always loved camping, but somehow I never saw any black women at campsites. It became an agenda for me: Where were the black honeys?
With this percolating in the back of my mind I went camping with a few friends. We packed tents and meat. That’s it. Meanwhile, we went with a group of mates who ran a VIP business, and they had: 4×4 tents, full camping equipment – they even hired someone at the campsite to clean the camp and cook for them. They were having a full-service experience. We didn’t even have a cup of coffee.
On my way home I realised there was a potential business idea here. But would the middle and upper-middle class black market pay for a full-service camping experience? I started asking around.
Why didn’t black people camp? It turns out that the reason lay in the misconception that camping is all about roughing it, but it didn’t have to be. It took me a few months to get ready to dive in, but all I had was a kombi and an idea.
And then I had a stroke of luck. I was sitting in the car listening to Power FM, and Azania Mosaka was saying that black people don’t camp. So I called in. As it happened I had a company that helped black people camp in style. We took care of everything. And just like that, Camping Khapela was in business.
What I’ve learnt about myself and entrepreneurship is that it’s all about the passion. I knew I wanted to run my own business, but it took finding something I’m passionate about for that dream to become a reality.
Never discount the importance of passion. Once you have that, the rest will fall into place.
I didn’t make anything on my first camping trip, but the clients’ payment covered my equipment, and that’s all I really needed to get started.
Entrepreneurship can be tough and lonely. If you aren’t passionate about what you’re doing, it’s unlikely to be a success.
Read more on 10 Inspirational African Entrepreneurs
4Hard Won Success
- Player: Sheree O’Brien
- Brand: Splakavellis Management
- Established: 2000
- Visit: www.splakavellis.co.za
Sheree O’Brien decided when she was 14 years old that music management was for her. So when she was just 19 she founded Splakavellis Management. She bootstrapped her business into profitability by working two jobs.
Her determination paid off, she became the only artist management and booking agency in East London, managing legendary artists such as DJ Mbuso, Soul Candi and Phezulu Records’ stable of DJ’s. That’s when O’Brien made her first big mistake.
She invested in a national tour with two other partners, but when the tour started to go badly, her partners cut and ran, leaving O’Brien to carry the debt alone.
She moved back in with her parents got a solid day job and freelanced at night to pay off all her debts. It took her seven years but the experience taught her hard lessons.
“I’m a firm believer that the best tool in your marketing arsenal is your reputation, so I made sure that throughout my journey, mine stayed intact,” believes O’Brien. “My brand name stayed strong, and so I didn’t actually lose any clients during that time. If anything I was even more in demand than before.”
O’Brien is proof that you can have it all, as long as you understand that there are no clear lines between personal and business for an entrepreneur. “My professionalism has been incredibly important in this regard,” explains O’Brien.
“People know me as the hardest working woman in this industry. In 16 years I’ve never missed a deadline because I don’t take anything for granted. I always do more than what I’m hired and paid to do.”
The only way to learn about risks is to take them. As an entrepreneur, safety should not be your go-to place. You have to be all-in, regardless of how many times you fall.
5Knock Their Socks Off
- Player: Sibusiso ‘Skinny Sbu’ Ngwenya
- Brand: Skinny Sbu Socks
- Established: 2013
- Visit: skinnysbu.co.za
You know what’s cool and fun? Not socks, that’s what. Socks are boring and dull. Well, as it turns out, this isn’t true at all. Socks are cool — more particularly; socks that are colourful, distinctive and bold are cool.
As a clothing item, the sock is experiencing something of a renaissance. And one of its biggest enthusiasts is Sibusiso ‘Skinny Sbu’ Ngwenya. Moreover, Ngwenya is no late-comer to the sock revolution. Even as a child, he enjoyed collecting socks.
When his collection had reached epic proportions, Ngwenya’s mom asked him why he didn’t start selling socks on the side. Was there a market for it? As it turned out, there was. He started out simply – by buying socks that were on sale at large retailers and reselling them to friends and acquaintances. He had a good eye for style, and people were keen to buy what he was selling.
Even at the start, Ngwenya realised the importance of creating a brand, especially in the fickle and image-conscious world of fashion. As the company has grown and it has started to create its own high-quality products, Ngwenya has positioned the brand at the premium end of the spectrum.
“Don’t be apologetic about your pricing, says Ngwenya. “If people believe there is value, they will pay the price. We want to attract people who don’t mind paying R200 for a pair of socks.”
“Do what you do best and outsource the rest,” management guru Peter Drucker famously said. By trying to take on complex functions such as manufacturing too early, you can easily end up bankrupting your business. Stick to what you know and outsource the rest.
Even though Skinny Sbu socks are now unique creations, they still aren’t produced in-house. “We focus on design and have the actual sock production outsourced. We make our socks from high-quality materials and it needs to be perfect, so we leave the production to people who know what they are doing. Design is our area of speciality, not production,” explains Ngwenya.
Want to start a business? Start small, start now. Find minimum viable product, prove your business model, and start selling. Focus on customers and profits, and growth will follow.
Read more on The Rise And Rise Of Skinny Sbu Socks
- Player: Jonny Sacks and Astrid Sacks
- Brand: Klutch
- Established: 2013
- Visit: klutch.co.za
Astrid was Virgin Active South Africa’s (VASA) marketing production manager, and Jonny, an accountant, working in the finance department.
Years of experience in branded merchandise production had given Astrid insight into the sector and she was all too aware of how large corporations can get taken for a ride when it comes to cost.
When the husband-and-wife team were ready to launch their start-up, they met with VASA MD Ross Faragher-Thomas, FD Grant Scott, and COO Rick Jaffe. “They amazed us with their willingness to help,” says Jonny.
“We had countless meetings. We had to provide case studies to prove what we were preaching, and take part in a formal RFP process with some big names in the promotions industry. When we launched in early 2013, VASA was our first client.”
“We work 16-hour days, every day,” says Astrid. “It’s a slog and you have to prepare yourself for the long haul. The biggest mistake people make is thinking that being your own boss is easy. It really isn’t. It takes hard, gritty, dirty work, and bags under your eyes and countless cups of coffee kind of work. But perseverance is key.
“One day you’ll look up and see what you have created from nothing. It’s like having another child to care for.”
In a sector where competition is rife, Klutch also offers end-to-end service, including promotional branded merchandise, print management and branding banners, gazebos and other items.
“Usually you would need to go to three different suppliers for this, but we have it all under one roof,” says Jonny. “Because we are a trade business, we get everything at trade prices. For the client, it’s easier and more convenient to deal with one provider. We also offer extra services, like packaging and distributing across the country.”
Start-up success often hinges on being able to leverage your connections. Klutch’s Astrid and Jonny Sacks managed to turn a previous employer into a client. However, having connections isn’t enough – you also need to provide great service.
7Making A Name For Yourself
- Player: Xoliswa Kakana
- Brand: ICT-Works
- Established: 1999
- Visit: ict-works.co.za
Xoliswa Kakana was a busy kid. While other children did chores to earn pocket money, she liked taking things apart to see how they worked, fixing people’s watches, irons and other electronics.
When she came across an article in the early 80s about a Japanese woman engineer who was also an astronaut, her mind was set and she signed up for an electronics engineering degree.
In 1999, she launched ICT-Works to create what she calls ‘an environment that would allow women ICT professionals the space and freedom to express themselves.’
Kakana reveals: “It was challenging when we started, but we persevered and ensured that we delivered on every contract we signed. Because it was critical to build a track record, we had to take on some projects that were not immediately profitable.”
The overarching challenge that Kakana faced was that people buy from people, so they buy from people they already have a relationship with. “Therefore, that’s where you feel most that you are a woman – because our male colleagues get to know each other on the golf course and other social spaces that women are not easily let into.
“Once you get past that hurdle, for most people the fundamentals are the same – they want assurances that the job will get done, and that they can rely on you to deliver,” explains Kakana.
When I realised that I’d reached the capacity of my capabilities, I asked for help in the right places, inviting my business partners Sindile Ncala and Margaret Sibiya to leave their corporate jobs and join me.
When we were smaller, we relied a lot on fleet-footedness. We were opportunistic, chasing anything and everything that came our way. Our roles changed every day.
One moment I was a CEO who doubled as a sales person, the next I was a bid writer, and after that, the main delivery resource. I even swept the floor when necessary. You have to be willing to do anything in the early stages.
Now, we are an Oracle Platinum Partner, which is the second highest level of partnership, and few companies have that recognition in this country.